A step forward and a step back?
Just days after it was reported that Pope Francis privately told a gay man, “God made you like this and loves you like this,” another news story says he’s spoken out against the admission of gay men to Roman Catholic seminaries, where they train for the priesthood.
In a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops Monday, the pope warned against admitting candidates with “deep-seated” gay tendencies or those who engage in “homosexual acts,” the Catholic News Agency reports. Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, confirmed the remarks in a press conference Thursday, according to the agency.
“If you have even the slightest doubt, it's better not to let them enter,” Francis said of aspiring seminarians with gay “tendencies,” according to Vatican Insider, an Italian site covering the church.
This isn’t a new stance for Pope Francis or the church overall, as the church has long held that men with “deep-seated,” as opposed to “transitory,” attractions to the same sex are not suited for the priesthood. Francis reiterated that policy in a 2016 document. Still, there are many gay men who are priests, and they, like heterosexual priests, are expected to remain celibate.
But it does square rather oddly with some of the pope’s more LGBT-friendly comments, such as his famous 2013 “Who am I to judge?” remark about gay priests, and his recent statement to the gay man, Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of sexual abuse by a priest. The Vatican has not confirmed or denied that Francis made the supportive statement to Cruz, citing its policy of not commenting on private conversations.
There have been varied opinions on the significance of the pope’s comment to Cruz, with some saying it’s consistent with church doctrine, to extend love to gay people without approving of gay relationships, and others saying it could potentially change much in the church. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and a longtime LGBT rights foe, endorsed the former view but questioned if anyone, including the pope, could authoritatively say God created people gay. Some far-right commentators have denounced the reported comment, saying the pope is supporting sin.
Also, Pope Francis recently made a troubling conflation of homosexuality with sexual abuse when he discussed the widespread incidence of such abuse in Chile. In a letter to Chilean bishops, “Francis noted how problems had been detected while they were in seminary or the novitiate, but rather than expelling these individuals, some bishops or superiors ‘sent priests suspected of active homosexuality to these educational institutions,’” the Catholic News Agency reports.